Dead Speak On The Green

New Haven’s Colonial inhabitants returned to the Green Friday to stage a protest against present-day protesters.

Artist Robert Greenberg made that happen by staking rubbings from 30 gravestones into the ground near the Occupy New Haven camp.

“This is my way of bringing them up and letting them talk,” the 49-year-old artist said.

He called his installation of headstones a way of reminding people what’s underneath the Green: the bodies of hundreds of early New Haveners, still interred there from back when the Green was used as a cemetery.

The reminder is also a rebuke directed at Occupy New Haven, the camp of protesters that has held a spot on the upper Green for nearly six months.

The camp has become “a mess” and it’s dishonoring the history of the city, Greenberg said. “I feel the New Haven Green has been disrespected.”

Greenberg worked with Bill and Jean Cameron, the caretakers at the Grove Street Cemetery, to take rubbings of 30 gravestones that originally stood on the Green. He clipped the rubbings onto pieces of cardboard, attached them to wooden stakes, and then Friday morning used a rubber mallet to pound them into the ground facing the Occupy camp.

“Every name is below us,” said Greenberg, who recently returned to New Haven after 27 years in New York City.

“I wanted to show the public the names of some of the people below us,” he said. “They all tell a story.”

He pointed out the side-by-side gravestones of Catherine and Woodbridge Townsend. He died in 1792 at 29 years old. ““With an infant daughter lying by his side aged 10 months,” the headstone reads. She died in 1794 at 22 years old. “Victim to the Yellow Fever.”

“Then you turn around and you have this Hooverville,” Greenberg said, pointing at Occupy. “I’m not happy with what I’m looking at here. I’m just offended at this mess.”

“These guys don’t understand that they won,” he said. “It’s like George Washington. The guy knew when to retreat. ... It’s wrong. It’s wrong to the public.”

Greenberg said he’ll leave the rubbings up for the day. “I wouldn’t leave them overnight,” he said. The occupiers might take them.

Two occupiers, who gave their names as Nathan Hale and James Madison, offered their thoughts on the art installation. But they would speak only after Madison’s favorite song finished playing on Hale’s little handheld radio.

The song over, Hale, a bearded man with a black bandana, said he initially thought the gravestones were somehow a sign of support for the occupation.

Informed they were not intended as such, Hale said, “Now I’m thinking that guy’s not so good.”

Occupy could take them and use them for signs, Hale mused. “It wouldn’t be thieving. He left them there.”

Madison, who was wearing a camouflage jacket, rejected the premise of Greenberg’s project. “This is not a graveyard,” he said emphatically.

After 100 years, any property used for burying people stops being a cemetery, he said.

“Stop trying to stir up zombies,” he said.

As for the idea that the occupy camp is a mess. “It’s his opinion,” Madison said. “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got them and they all stink.”

“I think it looks kind of gnarly-looking,” Hale said, gazing over at the centuries-old gravestones returned to the Green.

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posted by: BenBerkowitz on April 6, 2012  3:40pm

Whether you are an occupy supporter or not this is awesome.

Thanks for helping to take the green back for the 99% + people of New Haven who do not want to live on it.

posted by: Schlemihl on April 6, 2012  3:43pm

The two occupiers you talked to seem to pretty clearly show that the idea that occupy has anything to do with free speech is a lie. Pretty brilliant.

posted by: NewHavenPatriot on April 6, 2012  5:22pm

Aww, they should have put up a huge sign near the gravestone signs that says “Casualties of Free Market Capitalism”. :)

posted by: Walt on April 6, 2012  5:39pm

I’m with Greenberg

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on April 6, 2012  7:31pm

Slaves are buried there. NHG used to be a slave market.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 6, 2012  7:42pm

Bravo Robert!

posted by: Ed B on April 6, 2012  8:13pm

Thank you Mr. Greenberg.
I’m sure just about every other resident of NH is behind you.
Occupiers out, we want our Green back.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on April 6, 2012  10:05pm

(Quote)Madison, who was wearing a camouflage jacket, rejected the premise of Greenberg’s project. “This is not a graveyard,” he said emphatically. After 100 years, any property used for burying people stops being a cemetery, he said.”(Unquote)

I guess then that Mr. Madison, despite his historical name, is not aware that Arlington National Cemetery was established in 1864?

Mr. Greenberg, I applaud you.  You’ve made more of a point with your installation than ONH has done in six months.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on April 7, 2012  5:07pm

Occupy New Haven could not take “You Won” for an answer. The local protesters have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The local protesters have blown it - they will now be remembered here as misguided, lost souls who blighted the Green and didn’t know when to leave.

posted by: dana on April 7, 2012  10:06pm

Maybe the fellow meant it wasn’t a cemetery after 100 years if no one else has been buried there in 100 years.  I haven’t read all of the Connecticut statutes on cemeteries, but this sounds fishy to me.  Maybe he just doesn’t want to think about the thousands of human remains he has been sleeping on…

posted by: RCguy on April 7, 2012  10:19pm

We DESERVE this. We DESERVE “Hooverville” in the center of the city. We reap what we sow. While I don’t want to see this as much as any other New Haven lover, I believe we have “earned” it.

We have paid so much into a system driven by WAR and GREED forgetting that it has consequences at home and abroad. “We the people” know that War is Evil, yet we continue to accept that Billions/Trillions of dollars will go toward it, year after year. So this is one of the consequences of our delusion, albeit a minor consequence.

So how about we just ignore the Occupy protesters like we have been ignoring the War Machine.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on April 8, 2012  1:34am

Commentator beyonddiscussion hits the nail on the head. What could have been at least an accomplishment, has been derailed to being an embarrassment to the overall Occupy movement (or franchise,let’s call it what it is), depending on your POV, but it’s certainly not been a fait accompli. The only change that I’ve observed in New Haven is that more people want an end to this.  I won’t even ask what’s been achieved, because I have before.  The only responses I’ve got are the tired answers to the theme of “we got you to respond to this, haven’t we?”  As I’ve said before I can respond to a mosquito too, yeah, it got my attention but it didn’t change my views. Of course New Haven is talking about you. Do you not see that doesn’t imply they’re in agreement?  What am I saying? After reading this article I understand that ONH really doesn’t have any agenda except self aggrandizing.  But then, maybe there’s more important things in life, like listening to that favorite tune on the radio, I guess.

posted by: stuckinNH on April 8, 2012  8:51am

just goes to show you—even when you are dead, you still get pissed on!!

posted by: Uncle Egg on April 8, 2012  10:10am

Whether you agree with Greenberg or not, you have to admit this is a creative and elegant way to make a point.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on April 9, 2012  12:26am

NHI, I’d love to see a follow-up piece on Mr. Greenberg’s other works.  Is he New Haven based? It seems like he’s invested in the community judging by this installation.  I would love to see any other expressions.  Great artist.

(And, hopefully Mr. MacMillan’s piece will put to rest the claims of NHI being biased on this issue.  I’ve always felt the story was reported without prejudice in either direction. This current piece demonstrates that).